On building habits

October 25, 2021

During the last five years of my working life, I have come to realise that there are few things that pay off in the long run such as the ability to form habits easily. In retrospect, starting to do something like working out every other day, reading at a particular time of day, preparing for teaching a lesson – all have benefited from repetitive incremental progress through habits. Here are three things that have helped me build habits.

  • Anchoring: While building habits, it is easier to associate the new activity to an existing habit that you’re used to. For example, if going out for a run is already part of your day, then adding a post-run task like having your pills is easier than remembering to have it at 7 am. Once a habit becomes part of the day, it can then become an anchor for another new habit.

  • Planning: Part of building a habit is repetition, and for something to be repeatable, it should not change much. That is, chalk out a plan beforehand, maybe the previous day (tweak it if required) but stick to it through thick and thin – i.e., take the thinking or optionality out of the activity. For example, if I am planning to run 5 km in the morning, the option of cutting the run short should not even be present. A more detailed plan, for example, a 1 km pre-run warm up and a post run cool down, takes the thinking out of the picture and knowing it is obligatory even in those days that are tiring, makes build the habit.

  • Reviewing: One of the best things a smart watch has helped me with, in so far as workouts are considered, is a review of the last day/week’s activities. If I had been able to do all of my workouts in the week, looking back and reviewing it is a great sense of accomplishment, while not being able to do so is a reason to push harder in the next day/week. In terms of general habit-building, such reviewing of past activities has helped me make a conscious effort for those missed triggers, because as humans those are bound to happen.